Glendalough Gin and Whiskey from the Wicklow Mountains

Glendalough Gin Whiskey Aoifa

(Note from the author: This is an automated translation of the orignal German article)

On a pre-spring day in March 2022, I took a trip to Duesseldorf,
the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia. What at first glance has
little to do with Irish whiskey is the adopted home of Aoife Hand.
Aoife has been the Brand Ambassador of the Irish Glendalough
Distillery since autumn 2021. She represents their products such
as Glendalough Gin on the German market.

Aoife is one of those Irish names that drive non-Irish people to
despair when trying to pronounce it correctly. So for all you
non-Irish readers, it’s pronounced “Iffa”.
Originally, Aoife comes from Tullamore. A place that means
something to every whiskey connoisseur. It was also there that she
gained her first experience in the spirits business. As a tour
guide, she led visitors through the Tullamore Visitor Experience.
For this, she learned the necessary knowledge about the production
of whiskey.

Years later, this knowledge led her first to the Micro Distillery
near Glendalough, then to Germany and finally, on this March day,
to an Irish pub in Düsseldorf’s old town. I get there a few
minutes before her because of the train connections and wait at a
table. She enters the room and greets the bar staff stormily. Of
course, the brand ambassador has new promotional material from the
distillery in the Wicklow Mountains with her. She immediately
instructs the men behind the counter on how and where to hang it
most effectively. I am not left empty-handed either. A T-shirt,
beanie and a set of metal cocktail straws are in it for me.

Glendalough Distillery St. Kevin Logo

St. Kevin of Glendalough

The T-shirt is the same as Aoife is wearing on that day. Grey and
with the distillery’s distinctive logo on the chest. This shows
St. Kevin. “St. Kevin was a saint and is directly connected to
Glendalough,” she begins after we have moved to a quiet corner of
the pub. We drink water and Coke and I listen to her talk about
the distillery’s branding: “St. Kevin is considered the founder of
the monastic settlement whose ruins can be visited in Glendalough
today. He was considered to be particularly fond of animals.

That is why he is often depicted with a bird on his hand.” Like on the
distillery’s logo. There is a special story behind the bird.
Aoife: “According to legend, Kevin was standing in the lake when a
bird sat on him and placed an egg in his palm. Kevin subsequently
stood still and waited for the chick to hatch.”
It is the calm and patience behind this action that inspired the
makers of Glendalough Gin and Whiskey.

“Building a business and
especially making whiskey takes time and patience,” says Aoife.
At this, these makers are five friends from the east coast of
Ireland. In 2011 they founded their company, and in 2013 they
started distilling Glendalough Gin in Wicklow. For a few years
now, they have also been producing previously unreleased Irish
whiskey on two copper pot stills.
The Craft Distillery is located in Newtown Mountkennedy on the
eastern edge of the Wicklow Mountains.

Glendalough Whiskey Aoifa
Aoifa Hand, Brand Ambassador

Glendalough Gin: The Inspiration

To produce Glendalough Gin and Whiskey, the five founders gave up
the security of their regular jobs. Instead, they took risks.
From this, Aoife draws another parallel:
“St. Kevin was a young man from a good family. Nevertheless, he
went to the Wicklow Mountains as a hermit. There he lived alone,
far from luxury and security. Why? To find something meaningful.
It was a similar story with the founding of the distillery.”

However, in the case of the five founders, it was nothing
religious like Saint Kevin. Rather, they wanted to refresh the art
of distilling in Ireland. They did this at a time when other
distilleries such as the Dingle Distillery (2012) were beginning
to bring a breath of fresh air to the Irish landscape.
A wind that would eventually drive the revival of Irish whiskey
and in front of which the Craft Distillery from the East Coast
successfully sailed with its gin. And clear the path for more craft distilleries such as Killowen Distillery.

Glendalough Rose Gin

Today, there are several Glendalough Gins on the market. “The best
known is the Glendalough Rose Gin,” says Aoife. “It has won
several awards now. However, more important is the back story.”
The drink was created as a tribute to Head Distiller Ciarán
‘Rowdy’ Rooney’s late mother Rose. As a gimmick for his younger
brother’s wedding, he produced a small batch of Glendalough Gin,
which he infused with rose petals from their shared mother’s
garden. “The Glendalough Rose Gin went down so well with the
wedding guests that it became a core release,” Aoife says with a
smile. A beautiful story.

Basically, almost all the botanicals used in Glendalough Gin come
from the Wicklow Mountains. “We are lucky to have great botanicals
growing right on our doorstep. And on top of that, we have an
excellent botanicals expert in our ranks,” says Aoife. That expert
is Geraldine Kavanagh. She gathers the botanicals for the
production of gins like the Wild Botanical Gin or the Seasonal
Gins in the mountain slopes of the Wicklow Mountains.

Glendalough Gin Botanical

Irish Whiskey from the Wicklow Mountains

In addition to Glendalough Gin, the Craft Distillery produces an
Irish Poitín and, of course, Irish whiskey. “We distilled our
first, own whiskey in 2017 or 2018. An Irish pot still whiskey,”
Aoife knows. While this is still in the
warehouses, the Wicklow distillery offers purchased whiskey under
its own label. Aoife singles out a few remarkable examples: “We
have a 25-year-old single malt, the first in the world with a
Virgin Irish Oak Cask Finish. Plus a 17-year-old single malt with
an equally exceptional Mizunara Cask Finish.” The whiskeys used in
these come from undisclosed Distillery stocks.

The two types of casks used for the finishes are remarkable. The
distillery continued to experiment successfully with both. “For
our Single Pot Still Whiskey, we also used Virgin Irish Oak Cask
in the finish. The wood for this comes from oaks that we sourced
locally from sustainable forestry in Wicklow. In doing so, the
exact cask and tree can be traced to each bottle.” For this, the
pot still whiskey continued to come from third party purchases.

Glendalough 7 Years Mizunara

Mizunara: The ‘difficult’ oak from Japan

However, for the latest release, the distillery went back to
Japan. The distillery blended three purchased single malts from
ex-bourbon barrels and gave them a finish of up to 12 months in
Mizunara casks. “The trees for the casks were up to 200 years
old,” Aoife says. “Drying the wood for the casks can take up to
two years.”

All reasons why Mizunara is one of the most expensive
oak woods. “It is very expensive and also difficult to get hold of
barrels,” said the brand ambassador. However, the Wicklow
distillers were lucky. On a trip to Hokaido, Kevin, one of the
five founders, met the coopers. After a night of drinking, he
secured 21 casks. So much for the legend.

Enough barrels for upcoming releases while the own New Make is
still maturing into whiskey. “Our distillery is very small. We
don’t focus on mass, but on quality,” explains Aoifa. In
in the meantime, she continues to travel the country, informing
about Saint Kevin and bringing Glendalough gin and whiskey to
whiskey lovers.